Nicaragua has decided to star a new Latin American soap opera: “Borders in the water.” This is the third (or is it the tenth? I’ve lost count) sequel to the drama started in 2001 when it reopened its dispute with Colombia over the San Andres archipelago, arguing that the 1928 Esguerra-Barcenas treaty wasn’t valid because it was signed when the Somoza were in power in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas say that at that time Nicaragua wasn’t autonomous and sovereign.
That soap opera was ended, for a time, when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared that the archipelago was not to be disputed (it was rightfully Colombian), but the maritime border is open for grabs: Colombia and Nicaragua are now disputing their territorial seas. Of course, there are no complaints from Nicaragua about having kept the Mangles islands or the Mosquitos coast (actually, most, if not all, of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua used to be Colombian before the treaty of 1928).
The drama reached a new climax (these writers keep us at the edge of our seats!) when Honduras and Costa Rica recently expressed their intention to intervene in the maritime border dispute, as its outcome will affect these two countries. Of course, if the border changes between Colombia and Nicaragua, so too will the borders of the other two, and neither seems to be willing to negotiate with Nicaragua, let alone keen to do so.
Just as that soap opera was getting on its way, a new one was launched (perhaps because of the poor ratings): Nicaraguan troops started to dredge the river that serves as a border with Costa Rica. The latter argues that this action is illegal, even more so because the Nicaraguans are in an isle in the middle of the river, which both countries claim.
Now, since Costa Rica hasn’t had an army since 1948, it is sure to gain more solidarity from the international community as it is seen as a peace-loving state. In fact, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama and Colombia are backing Costa Rica in the discussions in the Organization of American States and support the condition that, to proceed with negotiations and dialogue, the Nicaraguans are going to have to fall back to their territory.
As could have been expected, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega responded undiplomatically that those countries backing Costa Rica are in favor of drug trafficking, as his country’s army is merely doing an anti-drug exercise, and asking for the withdrawals of the troops equals leaving drug traffic unchecked. When hell is within, you have to search for the devil outside to keep your country from tearing itself apart.
Now, Ortega talking about being an anti-drug crusader is more than romantic, but accusing these four states (including Costa Rica) of wanting drug trafficking to succeed is just ridiculous – what were the soap opera writers thinking of?
But an exquisite twist in the plot came after Mexico, Costa Rica and Nicaragua protested against Ortega’s words; the Colombian president didn’t bite back. He just said that he wouldn’t comment on it. Now, this is quite reminiscent of Uribe’s style: When he received aggressive criticism from the opposition (and there was no threat of use of force with the political attacks), he just kept quiet, ignoring the problem. After that, many problems went away because he didn’t give the press something to further publish about them, and so attention was diverted and issues forgotten by many.
As the song “Odiame” (“Hate Me”) goes: odio quiero mas que indiferencia porque el rencor hiere menos que el olvido (I want hate more than indifference because hatred hurts less than oblivion). Santos’ response was very good: No comment. It was a bit faulty when he added that Ortega’s statement didn’t deserve a response, but he is right. Nicaragua’s continuous fights with other states have dramatically decreased its credibility and it’s starting to be the disliked neighbor in Central America, even more so because Zelaya is gone from Honduras. Who will Ortega turn to now?
Nicaragua, like many other actors, is starting to be stereotyped with a single role: If it continues its course of making accusations and constantly demanding more territories and taking case after case to the ICJ, then it is in a real danger of being appointed only to the role of victim in the future Latin American soap operas yet to be produced.
Santiago Sosa studies International Business at Universidad EAFIT in Medellin